Voluntary smoking controls have proved ineffective in China, with laws and regulations being the only effective way of curbing the habit, according to a report released in Beijing on Thursday.
The 2011 China Tobacco Control Report was released by the Tobacco Control Office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), just ahead of the 24th World No-Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31.
Voluntary smoking control was a compromise advocated by the tobacco industry, which was under the pressure of public criticism at the time, according to Liang Xiaofeng, deputy director of the China CDC. These methods of curbing tobacco use have proved ineffective in other countries as well, Liang said.
Smoke-free environments can only be created through mandatory constraints, according to the report. Compared to voluntary no-smoking policies, strict laws and regulations are more equal and comprehensive in their coverage, with enforcement being a key part of their effectiveness, the report said.
Harbin, the capital city of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, passed one of China's first second-hand smoke-prevention laws on the same day that the report was released.
According to the report, second-hand smoke is a problem in roughly 88.5 percent of China's restaurants, making them the primary target of China's new smoking control measures.
Government buildings ranked second on the list, as second-hand smoke was found to be problematic in 58.4 percent of China's government buildings.
Medical institutions, schools and public transportation fared better but are still far from being completely smoke-free, according to the report.
The report, which cited international research figures, said that no-smoking policies may reduce the effects of second-hand smoke by 40 percent, or as high as 90 percent in highly vulnerable places.
According to the report, China has more than 300 million smokers. About 740 million people, including 180 million children and teenagers, are affected by second-hand smoke, the report said.
Progress on the issue has been "slow" ever since China ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which took effect in 2006, according to Yang Gonghuan, director of the China CDC.
Deaths caused by smoking-related illnesses are predicted to triple to 3.5 million by 2030, according to a health report released in January.
The report, titled "Tobacco Control and China's Future," blamed the tobacco industry's interference in governmental policy-making for the lack of substantial progress on tobacco control in China over the past five years.
Yang said government authorities have largely had positive reactions to the report.
In February, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) ordered film and television producers to restrict the number of smoking scenes in their works and to completely eliminate scenes that show specific brands of tobacco or that show minors using tobacco products.
In March, the Chinese government included smoking bans in public places in its 12th Five-year Plan, indicating that more changes may be on the way.
A national regulation banning indoor smoking took effect on May 1, but it has been derided as being too weak because of a lack of relevant penalties.
"Since smoking control has been included in China's 12th Five-year Plan, tasks and responsibilities will specifically be assigned to relevant departments, which will expedite progress in smoking control," said Yang.